At some point Boris materialized, drawn to the positive vibes with his strange, predator-like way of seeking things out.
“How’s it been, man?” I asked.
“Excellent.” He cocked his head and gave an A-okay gesture, clenching together his thumb and index finger very tightly, practically pulsating, as if straining against his will to show his excellence. “I was just,” but he paused to exhale and wriggle his limbs, forcing himself to relax. “I was just goofing off with Ojas when I realized that I needed to do my own thing. Sometimes you know that you need to do you. And I know you know that, man. So I ended up walking along the water for miles – miles and miles, brotha.”
“Yeah man, I know.” I thought of my earlier exchanges with Arnold. “It’s more peaceful like that.”
“Yes, my friend, yes! Indeed. Most peaceful, most peaceful, of course.”
He was unusually calm. We went silent and sat together under the mid-afternoon sun, listening to The Beatles and enjoying life’s small details. My neck, on a swivel, supported my roaming, all-seeing consciousness as it registered every image, every noise, every subtle change, as if I were part of the air.
“Dude!” Boris cried, jerking me awake. “Stop being so, so hyperaware. Just chill out and like, just be in the fucking moment.”
“Dude, I am so in the moment. What are you talking about?” I was mortally offended by his imprecation. He scoffed at my defensive posturing, not in a mean-spirited way, but as if to say “gotcha!” which made me laugh with him, at myself and toward the world.
“Oh, hey,” I remembered, “speaking of moments and stuff, I wrote a haiku earlier.”
“Oh yeah? Let’s hear it then.”
“Weird blue sky. Grains of sand ground me. Waves ripple.”
He chuckled and held his chin like a philosophe. “Oh, man. That’s good stuff, I like it, Johnny-boy, I really do like it and all, and yet I can’t help but feel that…” he trailed off, looking at his feet.
“Well,” he said, uncustomarily deferential and nervous, “how would you feel about saying, ‘grains of ground ground me’?”
“But, but the sand, man.”
“What about the sand?”
“I’m trying to evoke the sensation of sand.”
“I get that man, I really do, but the rippling waves already inform me that you’re at the beach.”
“But the grains are of sand. They’re sand grains.”
“But aren’t they grains of ground, too?” He smiled quizzically. I bowed my head and flicked my wrist, symbolically tipping my hat to him. Boris shined brilliantly, or at least looked brilliant in the moment.
“Okay, now it’s your turn! Go on, compose a poem on the spot,” I urged, encouraged by the friendly tone between us.
“Alright, lemme think.” He looked around in search of an object. His gaze locked in on two flies buzzing over the rim of his margarita, sporadically landing on its edge and sniffing around covetously. He smiled and glanced around thoughtfully. He muttered a few words under his breath. Then he spoke straight ahead, very solemnly as if addressing a crowd.
Oh little flies,
Look at them go,
Fly little flies,
Oh how they go.
“Fucking love it!” Nathan cried. Boris and I started in surprise, unaware that Nathan was awake. He’d been sitting there perfectly still, eyes covered under reflective sunglasses. We then engaged in a long dialogue which became an agreement over the need for poetry to originate from reality in relation to reality as it’s experienced on a millisecond basis. With this newly discovered treasure chest we began narrating our thoughts as they developed, spouting ideas in rapid succession.
“The beer on the desk is clear but not as clearheaded as I who am looking at Nathan’s sunglasses but alas we cannot see eye to eye for the jiggling frivolous madness of years yonder lost within the parameters of space and big tall lampshades that soften earthly glows, but not the glow of the gooey glob suspended in the sky powering its existence while infusing your bones and mine and Nathan’s too, just look and see everyone – come one, come all, the greatest show on earth! – in the dawn of all things see a madman cackle while watching the mad men sitting and stirring and most importantly brewing beneath the gelatinous goodness of time.”
This transitioned into freestyle rapping. Boris played instrumentals on his iPhone and started spitting verses while Hey Jude blared as white noise and Nathan giggled madly. Grace then interrupted our rapping reverie with her desire to go rollerblading on the boardwalk. Boris, Nathan, Ojas, and myself were all raring to go. I took a parting sip of margarita and we descended onto the pavement, reinserting ourselves into society. There was a place that rented out equipment only a block away from Starbucks, but our journey quickly came to a halt, as a local bum accosted Ojas. The gangly and disoriented man was foaming from the mouth, poking Ojas’ chest with his index finger and mumbling unintelligible threats, not dissimilar to how Boris had been threatening Ojas at the Waco Crew apartment.
“What’s up, dude?” Ojas said calmly, sympathetic to the man’s aggression. As I watched Ojas delicately disentangle himself from the situation, I contemplated the forces behind the man selecting Ojas for his object of harassment, and quickly landed upon the speculative conclusion that it somehow owed to Ojas’ brown skin, which resembled the man’s own skin, and which, perhaps in the madman’s cloudy mental landscape, he loosely associated with his own destitution, which explained why he frowned upon a fellow colored brother living opulently in shiny sunglasses and lurid collared T-shirts fraternizing with the white enemy while the mad bum wasted away in alleyways without a soul by his side, but I hated myself for these thoughts, and the self-hatred sent a frisson of existential despair through my nervous system, which caused me to almost collide into Ojas as he caught up and we all turned left onto commercial street, whose familiar storefronts greeted us: Sandbar, the pizza joint, a gyros shop, the liquor store, our delicious Mexican restaurant, and of course Giant Dipper, the rickety old wooden roller coaster that never ceases to creak, ominous and paradisiacal in its nostalgic height. The gaudiness of Mission Beach’s charade no longer offended my sensibilities; on the contrary, I felt myself submitting to its carnivalistic power. Here was a space for infinite jest to prevail. Here was a neighborhood where perpetual childhood reigned. Here you could walk aimlessly with a boa constrictor draped around your neck and be affectionately known as “Snake Guy,” because all beachfront towns need a “Snake Guy” to round things out. My friends and I were not exempt. Oh no. We, too, featured as fleeting fixtures in the mad circuitous playpen. We, too, belonged to Southern California.
As we approached the curb, only a few seconds remained for pedestrians to cross, but I intuitively recognized there’d be at least five or six seconds before the waiting cars would see green – plus they’d see us crossing and wait because it wasn’t in their interest to mow down pedestrians, so I cried, “c’mon gang!” and skipped across the road merrily, rather arrogantly, but nobody followed. I looked back, did a celebratory jig and even flirted with the idea of buying an iced coffee at the Starbucks behind me while my friends waited to cross, not because I was craving coffee but because I wanted to accentuate the fact that I was ahead of them, that I was waiting on their lazy asses. I was then jolted awake by the roar of a motorcyclist who was revving up his engine in anticipation of the green light. He was decked out in black leather with a red bandana tied around his head. His face was an old man’s face. Maybe he rode with Hell’s Angels in the days of Thompson. He would’ve only been a teenager then; and here he was, still on his Harley, still revving up his engine at red-lights, still pissing off pedestrians across America. The image suddenly came to mind of a car slamming into his rear, sending him flying across the pavement; or as he crossed the intersection, a semi truck T-boning him at 60 miles per hour, smack dab in the middle of the intersection, splattering his blood and guts all over the vehicle’s windshield. The fact my brain concocted these images seemed to signify to itself that at least part of it wanted to see it actually happen; that at least a few neurons hoped for the images to materialize into reality if only because the noise of him revving his engine got under my skin, or maybe because deep down I scorned him for looking the part of white trash in his black leather and red bandana, and perhaps a part of me wanted to see his blood and guts for myself, if only to know he was real; or perhaps a part of me wanted him to die in front of myself and my friends for the sheer shock-value of the event, the indisputable fodder for discussion, if only for the break from routine, but I also knew deep down that if it did happen I’d realize that, as a matter of fact, I never wanted it to really happen, for it’s so easy, so effortless, to half-heartedly wish death on a man for a half-second out of sheer annoyance, like the ease with which we kill flies, but I knew if he died as I’d envisioned, his death would be quick, only a moment or two of pain, but the scene would plague me for days, weeks, months – my whole life – and when the time came for me to follow him to the great beyond, when my life flashed proverbially before my eyes, I’d see the scene again, the image-turned-reality, and among my final thoughts would be the unanswerable question: “Did he die because I wanted him to die? Was I somehow responsible for this gruesome death that’s been forgotten by everyone but myself?” and that would be that, but this all transpired in a few moments, and I briefly stewed over the density and complexity of this interplay of thought and emotion until my friends crossed the street and were poking me in the ribs, poking fun at my eagerness to run across the intersection, and I smiled widely as I returned to the sanity of my group.
We rented rollerblades from a shop that caters to tourists; the janky sort of place that sells overpriced sand sculpting tools and assorted beach toys. The bronze-skinned dude behind the counter wore sunglasses, despite being indoors. He was unenthused with the giggling brats wanting to rent roller blades from his shop; utterly emotionless like Zane Zinser, one of those guys who are never happy or sad, never excited or empathetic, one of those souls who generally don’t feel anyway about anything.
We carried our rollerblades to the boardwalk and sat atop the concrete barrier to strap in. Nathan and Ojas had never rollerbladed before; they teetered and tottered like penguins on ice. Nathan, as he’d been doing all day, guffawed hysterically, even when he fell on his ass. The five of us slowly pumped our way along the boardwalk, passing the mad bum. He looked at us but didn’t seem to remember the earlier incident. We stopped outside our porch. The party was raging, stronger than ever. Boris and Grace went inside to take tequila shots without taking their rollerblades off. My stomach didn’t feel so great. I stayed on the boardwalk to help Ojas and Nathan learn how to rollerblade. Eddy came down to say hello and share a cigarette with me. He was tripping and very drunk, like everyone else.
“Ey, Johnnyeee,” he slurred, “Wha do ze call a goat on rollerblades een Moscow?”
“Fuck if I know, man, I’m not a fucking commee.”
“Have you heard from Carl?” I asked, recalling the earlier incident with a shade of guilt for not checking in on his status; for not thinking of his well-being. Eddy sobered up at the thought of his pal.
“Yes indeed – texted me earlier. Feeling much better, but was worried the lifeguards – zat they vould kidnap him and sell him to ze Mexican drug rackets.”
Boris and Grace soon returned. I grimaced at the sight of his hand on her back as they descended onto the boardwalk; to be fair, it was awfully difficult navigating the precipitous little stairway in rollerblades. In any case, our crew was now properly inebriated and the voyage could begin. We started north, pushing ourselves into the wind. Ojas and Nathan lagged behind. They couldn’t manage more than a few miles per hour. Boris, Grace and I were eager to fly, and boy did we take off, cruising and cruising by all walks of life on that interminable seaside corridor: happy homeowners power-walking in lurid tracksuits from REI; troubled packs of adolescent boys up to no good in oversized pants and wife beaters; big Hispanic families enjoying another sunny afternoon with beach umbrellas and Subway bags and sandcastle equipment, and I swear they were all happier than the rich white families, especially the old fat rich white people sitting on their beachfront porches and patios getting fatter with smug but dissatisfied expressions as if impatient for dinnertime, and lonely middle-aged men strolling aimlessly in hopes of meeting a new wife for this next phase of life, the unforeseen crossroads that never could have been anticipated that happy day under the altar twenty years ago when tears of joy and pride trickled down his face – in the face of his face, a face he could call his own, all-the-while oblivious of the hardship that was to come – but things change, and the scenery was changing, too, as we crept our way up the coast. Individual properties gave way to Trumpian mega-resorts. I imagined their executives locked up in windowless conference rooms brainstorming how to stave off Airbnb’s onslaught, how to outthink those jackasses in Silicon Valley playing Ping-Pong and laughing their asses off at how fucking rich they’d gotten in a matter of years. We paused to rest at the mouth of a broad wooden pier, on which little bungalows rested – “No bicycles, skateboards, or rollerblades” said the sign on the gate that separated our concrete sidewalk from the pier’s wooden planks. It was time to turn around. We’d been going for thirty minutes and our rental time was only for an hour.
We started south, the wind now at our backs. Grace exclaimed, “Wow, this is a breeze!” and we giggled merrily at our cleverness, cruising alongside one another, close enough to chat, exchanging jokes and feeling strong in our rollerblading prowess. Grace was radiant in her short denim shorts and windblown fair-hair. Boris looked middle-aged in a pair of sunglasses attached to his head with Croakies. His smooth rollicking laugh seemed to be directing itself at Grace exclusively. I contemplated the nature of her inner world; I wondered how many women had succumbed to Boris’ laugh, how many allowed a part of themselves to fall in love with that laugh for a night, if only because a part of them wanted to fall in love for a night – after all, who was a better recipient of a night’s love than a smooth rollicking laugh that spoke for itself, and I then realized why Boris’ style of seduction troubled me, for on the one hand it mirrored elements I perceived in myself – like my own little laugh that I wielded with intent; the way I laughed my special laugh and lowered my chin to affect a look of unsullied sympathy, as if to say, “the understanding between us transcends tedious words, dear,” a look whose authenticity I had honed and thus half believed in myself, but what really jarred me was seeing how he and I were two distinct but related offshoots of the hypersexualized ego: Boris sought bodies and I sought minds; he wanted to explore and thereby possess every aspect of a woman in bed – how she squirmed, moaned, climaxed – every nitty-gritty physical detail, whereas I hoped to decipher and appreciate every aspect of her soul – her habits, prejudices, fears, dreams. It wasn’t a disinterested appreciation, because I wanted to be seen as the one and only person who ever fully appreciated what made her her, even long after I was gone, even if I was just a passing thought in ten years, I wanted to be there, a spectral incarnation of loss. If Boris wanted to be inside of her once, I wanted to hover in her midst for eternity. Boris knew Grace would never sleep with him, and I knew she would never let me hover in her eternity. Perhaps that’s why she allured us – or maybe it was just the way she looked at you.
We found Nathan and Ojas back on the porch, drinking beers and still in their rollerblades. We skated down to commercial street and took off our skates to walk them back to the shop where we exchanged them for our shoes. I was excited to drink more beer, but as we walked by a smoke shop, Grace insisted we go inside because she wanted to buy an electronic cigarette (though I’d never seen her with a real cigarette). It was a typical smoke shop with pipes, bongs and various glass contraptions, all ostensibly for tobacco. Two women with perturbed facial expressions stood motionless at the far end of the rectangular room. Behind the glass counter was a pony-tailed man with bulging blue eyes and a plain white t-shirt. He turned away from the other two patrons and eyed us with a demure, penetrating stare.
“Hello there, my friends. My brothers and my sister. How may I help you today?”
“Yeah, hi,” said Grace, “I’m looking for an E-cig. Can I see what you have?”
The employee was motionless, pardon the bulbous aquatic telescopes implanted on his face; they whizzed and whirred in Grace’s direction. Grace grew afraid and looked toward us pleadingly.
“I would love to help, young lady, but I don’t think you need any electronic cigarettes – no, no, no! – not at his phase in your life, anyhow, for I see you are someone who for the appeasement of others contorts and reconfigures those deeply-held values which you cherish most – not in a self-destructive way, I shall admit – but those beautiful and mysterious virtues that exercise your heart and which you savor at night before closing your eyes, which you cling to so dearly in the face of rapacious change to your social environments… yes, THIS above all other variables, above all individual circumstances, is what causes you to act in a manner artificially ordained by the ebb and flow of exteriority, it regulates you and your forms of expression in strangely imperceptible ways to those around you but no, not imperceptible to yourself, I see in you your own consciousness of these driving factors in the deft calculus of your fibers, from one moment to the next, when situations transition, I detect your own awareness of that which shifts the frameworks and conceptual strata of your own universal orientation, which, I might add, is teeming – nay, positively bursting! – with love and harmony and I only wish that you might wrest greater control over the fluctuating madness of the insects and animals that waylay you in the jungle, because once you do so there will be no quelling the bounty of harvests you reap from the soil of hearts.”
The man’s voice and expression were unwavering. Then, his whizzing and whirring aquatic telescopes turned on me.
“And you, young man, why is it that you are so anal about everything around you, why are you analyzing all the pesky details of this and that and of him and her when you KNOW yourself that the greater things you truly seek are veiled beneath the fabric in which you’re so haplessly entangled, so ask yourself, young man, why is it that that which you mourn is also that which ingratiates the vulgar hovels of your soul? But I do recognize that the glue in which you are stuck – like an ant in honey, yes – it sometimes slackens its strength and your arms flail upward, and your sensitive soul rises from murky depths to clasp that which feels so illusive ninety-nine percent of the time, so my friend, again, you must ask yourself – why do you allow your flailing arms to return to the honey glue which will never fully satiate the premier lodgings of your soul, the ones in which you seek full-time residency?”
The human observatory then pivoted its attention to Ojas.
“And you over here, well anyone can see the inborn gentleness of your temperament and how effortlessly you float across the tides of time from one place to the next, from predicaments to fortuitous opportunities, from culture to culture, from the lowland grassy plains to big teetering promontories, but my friend! You need to be more aware – and I dare say you should beware of the rocks below that bark and bark but whose call you do not heed – I see that you believe the rocky alcove in which you sit is secure and will make a good home for you in the years to come and those who you create in due time – yes, a family man you shall be! – but my friend, everyone who’s found themselves secure and cozy in rocky alcoves over the grand stretches of time have succumbed to natural forces, from Wittgenstein and Thoreau to the ancient Puebloans of Mesa Verde – gravity will work its wrath, sooner or later, sooner or later, and I think its better for you if sooner rather than later you begin speaking your mind more, come on now, man, you mustn’t be so reserved in speech.”
“Actually, man,” interjected Boris mockingly, “this guy is the opposite of reserved in speech.”
The ponytailed clairvoyant paused a moment and turned to Boris. He resumed talking but we stopped listening.
“Was he deciphering you two?” Nathan asked the women.
“Yeah man, we just like came in to buy a pipe but I don’t think this fool’s gonna sell us anything,” said one of them.
“C’mon, let’s get the fuck out of here,” said the other, exasperated by the whole experience. They walked outside and we followed.
“Wait, Grace, did you get your e-cig?” I asked.
“No, but I don’t want one anymore. What the fuck was that! He was reading me like a book.”
Boris activated his smooth rollicking laugh. “So you felt like he was getting somewhere with you?”
“Yes, like oh my god, yes,” said Grace, her voice quivering. “Like, hitting the nail on the head.”
“I wouldn’t give him too much credit,” I said, “the stuff he was saying seemed sort of generic. Like, yeah, it might apply to you, but it probably applies to a ton of other people.”
“So you mean to say that you aren’t anal about pesky details?” said Ojas with a wry smile, because he and I went way back and he knew me better than almost anyone.
“Wait a minute!” cried Boris, “are you saying, Ojas, that you’re afraid of talking?” We howled and whooped as we turned onto the boardwalk, past the mad bum who was nestled up against the barrier, fast asleep it seemed.